I will admit that I have a phobia of vomiting. So – I am very very careful to limit contact with viruses that cause the stomach flu. The stomach flu is very contagious and often misunderstood and therefore many families take there children out in public or send them to school / daycare when they are contagious, thus causing more people to get sick. Most of the time, when a child has a stomach virus, they do not have a fever. It is more common to not have a fever with vomiting or diarrhea than it is to have a fever. In fact, if your child is throwing up WITH a fever, I would consider that it is possible they might have something other than just a stomach virus. Often children with strep throat will throw up and have a fever with strep throat. Even appendicitis has the symptoms of pain, vomiting, and fever. If your child just throws up once and then can eat a meal right after and keeps it down, it was probably something they ate. However, too many people often think that no fever with vomiting = something they eat. If your child throws up multiple times and isn’t eating (or if they eat and then vomit again), it is most likely the stomach virus – even with no fever. Tylenol will not prevent illness either, one mom told me she gave her child tylenol so they wouldn’t get sick. Tylenol works as a pain and fever reducer, it doesn’t work to prevent illness. Antibiotics also won’t work with a stomach virus. All viruses cannot be helped by antibiotics. Only bacterial infections (strep throat, certain types of pneumonia, sinus infections, bronchitis) can be helped with antibiotics. So asking for antibiotics when your child is throwing up from a stomach virus probably won’t get you anywhere. A doctor would only prescribe it if they thought the vomiting was stemming from a bacterial infection such as strep throat, for example. Using too many antibiotics when not needed will make you resistant to them when you do need them, so you only want to take them when truly needed.
Tylenol brings fever down. Even if you have a fever and use Tylenol to bring down the fever – please know that you or your child is still sick. It is not “polite” to give them Tylenol to bring down the fever and then send them to school until the Tylenol wears off and the school calls you. You are then infecting all the other kids who come in contact with your child. Also know that Tylenol (or Motrin) treats symptoms, not the illness. Another consideration is this – unless the fever makes you very uncomfortable – LEAVE IT ALONE – a fever is your body’s natural way of fighting the virus or infection. Your body raises the temperature to help kill the bad stuff. By taking Tylenol, you are slowing down the help your body is trying to do for you. A fever is your friend … yes, if you are MISERABLE with really high fever, get some help … but if it is that bad, the Tylenol won’t even make your temp go to normal. However, if you can deal with the fever or your child isn’t miserable (by the way, sleeping is not miserable – it is good and will help your child get better sooner) – let the fever help fight the illness.
The “Flu” – the regular flu (the virus that we get offered vaccines for each fall/winter) is almost always accompanied by a fever. If you think you have the flu and you don’t have a fever, you probably don’t have the flu (but with that said, you can still have the flu without fever – it just isn’t that common). Flu is fever with cold like symptoms and lots of fatigue and usually your body aches. The flu happens most often between October – March – with the highest chances around January and February most years. Flu usually lasts for at least a week and then kind of lingers. But note that the STOMACH FLU (see below) is not the “THE FLU.” We call it the stomach flu but it is not the influenza virus.
The STOMACH FLU - (this is not really a flu.) It is a virus that causes vomiting, diarrhea, and usually lasts under 12 hours. This is when you start feeling sick – are throwing up every hour or so – and after a few hours (sometimes just a couple to up to 12 – longer if it is a nasty case of Rotavirus) start to feel better. You have to eat slowly to get your stomach used to food again. This virus does not cause a fever in most people. So – if you or your child throws up multiple times in a few hour span but doesn’t have a fever – they most likely have the stomach flu and should not be around other people. Don’t think that if they don’t have a fever – it must just be “something they ate.” Most of the time, it is not something they ate (in all my life, I have had the stomach bug multiple times and only ONCE was it from “something I ate.”). If they vomit only once and they can eat fine – then they probably are not sick. Do they need to go see the doctor? In most cases, not unless they are dehydrated or have other symptoms that suggest it might be more than the stomach flu. The best way to treat a stomach flu is to let the stomach rest for at least 2 hours after vomiting then start with small sips (like a tablespoon) of water. Give the sip every 20 minutes, if after an hour, no vomiting occurred, increase the sips to twice as much, still every 20 minutes. Don’t over do how much liquid you give or the child will just vomit again. Once the child can drink and hold down liquids for a few hours, if they are hungry (and only if), they should start with some simple crackers or toast, small amounts and wait and hour in between. Go slow and if tolerated, you can increase it. They should stay home for at least 24 hours after vomiting and be really good about washing their hands after using the bathroom. They can still shed the virus for 2 weeks after being sick. Be respectful. Don’t inflict that on others! Don’t send them to school if they are still sick- don’t take them into Walmart while they are sick and remember they are still somewhat contagious even once they are better. If your child is sick – if you are sick – please STAY HOME! These viruses are VERY contagious. Did you know that they can also live on surfaces in your house for 2 weeks or more? So, if your child is sick and a week later when your child has been well for 6 days – they have a friend come over – if you missed a spot when cleaning – or maybe you didn’t go nuts with bleach like I do after someone in my house is sick – well, that friend could catch it! Yes, a week later – at your house – long after your child has been well!
So – to summarize…
Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections – colds, stomach bugs, and the flu are not bacterial!
The FLU is the regular winter flu – it generally does not cause vomiting – and usually does have a fever but is different from the Stomach Flu!
The STOMACH FLU – or STOMACH BUG – usually does not a fever – that is the norm. If your child throws up multiple times, it probably isn’t just something they ate.
DON’T probably don’t need to rush to the ER and doctors as soon as your child throws up in most cases – the doctor will tell you “your child has a stomach virus – gradually increase liquids, don’t let them dehydrate and put them on a bland diet (BRAT diet) until they feel better. However, trust your gut and if you feel your child seems very sick or listless, always be cautious and make the trip.
DON’T take your child out in public when they are sick! Think of others. And remember that the virus can live in your house for weeks!!!
One last thing? How can I stop the Stomach Flu? The obvious answer is hand washing (lots of it!) especially before eating!!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor and this advice is based on medical fact about viruses and bacterial illnesses as well as personal experiences of a mother of four.